The millennial generation will soon dominate the workforce, but research shows they come with different expectations from their older colleagues. A conversation between a manager and a millennial

What is a “millennial”, and why are they different?

SA: A millennial is somebody born between 1981 and 1996, so broadly, anyone currently aged in their early 20s to mid-30s.

DM: By 2025, we will account for 75% of the workforce, not to mention the fact that the next generation, the iGens are beginning to work their way up the ranks. Simon calls me a “classic millennial”. I’m still not sure if this is an insult or not.

SA: Yeah, it’s an insult! A big difference between you and me is your use of your mobile. You’re always on it! On the way to work. On the way to Costa. In Costa. On the way back from Costa. In work…

DM: Not in work! But I do agree that my generation is very different to the generation before me. Most of my friends regularly move jobs, and research suggests that the average millennial moves job every three years.

SA: Formerly employers tended to retain their employees for much of their careers, with the average employee making a couple of career moves at most.

Why should we manage differently from 20 years ago?

SA: Millennials have grown up in a generation with no clear-cut authority. This is very different from other generations. Traditionally managers are, more often than not, results-focused. Management styles are becoming increasingly more important. What things do you value most, Dunc?

DM: Weirdly, money is not a massive motivator for millennials. Neither is a pool table in the staff room or even free beer. A recent study suggests that millennials are more interested in learning and development than previous generations. We want to feel deeply committed to our role and work for a manager who will invest in our development. This may also be true of the iGens?

SA: I have found that millennials place a high value on mentoring. If mentoring is done correctly, this will be worthwhile for both the mentor and the mentee. They should be fulfilled in the workplace, allowing them to work more efficiently and with better purpose.

What should you seek from mentoring?

DM: All of the trainees at Blackadders are allocated a mentor – mine is Simon. We are encouraged to meet with them every four to six weeks. Over time, our meetings have become a lot more open, and having a conversation about my own development, while initially difficult, has become surprisingly easy. Ultimately, I want to increase my knowledge of the law and be able to work independently without feeling like I am drowning.

SA: I have had a number of mentees over my career, and structure our meetings to discuss four topics: mastery, autonomy, value and purpose. In respect of mastery, are your millennials still learning new information, new skills etc? If not, why not? In terms of autonomy, are your millennials receiving the right level? Do they want more or less autonomy? Is this achievable? With regard to value, are your millennials getting sufficient praise by colleagues, clients, peers etc? As for purpose, it is not generally purpose in the workplace. I encourage my mentees to target something they want to achieve outwith work. Dunc and I have run the Edinburgh 10km together and intend to cycle from Barra to Butt in the Outer Hebrides.

DM: How is training going for this, by the way?

SA: Ha, I’ve got at least nine months before you qualify! Giving a mentee a purpose and helping them achieve that purpose, in my experience, leads to a happier and more fulfilled workforce. Dunc also had a purpose with regard to his early morning starts…

DM: The employment team like their early starts… When I worked with Simon, I found the seat particularly challenging. I was constantly learning new skills – mastery – and was frequently told how I could work more efficiently. Simon really pushed me as regards my levels of autonomy. Due to the regular feedback and informal reviews, Simon had an irritating knack for keeping me just out of my comfort zone all the time!

SA: And did you receive value??

DM: From Jack, yeah… [laughs]… OK, and from you.

How do we get the most out of our millennials?

SA: Often, we are wrongly led to believe that millennials are entitled, impatient and unable to take criticism. On the contrary, millennials are adaptable, contemplative and offer a new, exciting perspective to the workplace. Instead of providing senior management with the latest gadgets, give them to your millennials instead. I have often found that they can take advantage of new technology quicker and, if asked, are very capable of educating the wider workforce.

DM: Having always been used to finding information a Google search away, we are constantly seeking to develop our knowledge and understanding.

SA: Every morning, I meet with the team and we discuss what needs to be covered that day.

DM: Ironically the process is far from high tech, and the team work from a white board.

SA: True. While this allows me to ensure the correct matters are being properly covered, I have also found that millennials are interested to know the inner workings of the team. This helps them with the “bigger picture” and quenches their thirst for knowing how the other solicitors operate. What are your thoughts on this, Duncan?

DM: Oh yeah, I’m a big fan of the morning meetings. It makes it very easy to know the priorities of the team that day and what the team is doing generally. This helped me grasp the subject much faster, get to know the team and there’s always a bit of friendly competition to see who can tick the most off the board! We go out every lunchtime for coffee, which Simon will buy along with cakes if we hit the team target. It wasn’t long before I was ordering skinny milk in my coffee!

What about the marketing side?

SA: On starting a traineeship with Blackadders, each trainee is given their own Twitter account.

DM: At the start I found it difficult to tweet as I wasn’t sure what to tweet about. My tweets struggled to gain traction. Simon suggested that instead of tweeting solely about work, I tweet about golf, my rugby team, my dogs… This was far better and received more traction.

SA: I tell trainees to follow the 3-7 premise. Out of every 10 tweets, only three should be work related. To be fair, I probably follow the 0-10 premise…

DM: I have built a strong following on Twitter and when I do blog something related to the law, the interaction has significantly improved. I have also been involved in the team’s employment law podcasts. We now have over 10,000 subscribers to our podcast and it is in its fourth season. Tweeting has helped increase our number of subscribers and perhaps makes the team seem more personable.

Is teamworking the best motivator?

SA: We operate a team fee target as opposed to the traditional individual target. This promotes a positive and strong culture within the team, and when we hit target it boosts everybody’s morale.

DM: Creating a team environment makes millennials feel more valued in the workplace.

SA: There is no “I” in the Blackadders Employment team… It follows that a happier worker will be a more invested, productive and efficient worker. This is key to developing and ultimately retaining your millennials.

DM: So is this the future for management?

SA: I suppose that managers should recognise that a different way of working isn’t necessarily the wrong way of working. Build a trusted relationship with millennials and this will help you get the most out of them. As Harvey Specter once said: “Loyalty is a two-way street. If I’m asking for it from you, then you’re getting it from me.”

If you have listened to our podcast, Employment Lawyer in Your Pocket, you will know we always like to give three takeaway tips. From this conversation they are:

  • Recognise the need for recognition
  • Create a strong corporate culture
  • Be a mentor, not a boss

And with that, Simon and Duncan head on their way. Maybe for a coffee. Maybe to discuss training for their cycling adventure. Or maybe to discuss the new season of Suits. Either way, this is a mentor/mentee/millennial relationship that works.

The Author
Simon Allison is a partner in Blackadders LLP and leads its award-winning Employment team. Twitter: @EmpLawyerSimon. Duncan Milne is a trainee solicitor in Blackadders’ Employment team and has featured as a presenter in the team’s “Employment Lawyer In Your Pocket” podcasts. Twitter: @EmpLawyerDunc
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